Monthly Archives: April 2006

Soldiers Replaced With Armed Robots

The new breed of soldier: Robots with guns.

Spurred by the risks from roadside bombs and terrorist ambushes, the military is aggressively seeking to replace troops with battlefield robots, including new versions armed with machine guns.

“There was a time just a few years ago when we almost had to beg people to try an unmanned ground vehicle,” says Marine Col. Terry Griffin, manager of the Robotic Systems Joint Project Office in Huntsville, Ala. “We don’t have to beg anymore.”

Although the Pentagon initially focused on aircraft, such as the Predator drone, now new ground- and sea-based robots are being developed and tested, military records show. For example:

  • The Mobile Detection Assessment Response System, an unmanned vehicle intended to patrol around domestic bases. The Army plans to start using it next year.
  • Self-driving convoy trucks. Some variants follow preplanned routes or the vehicle in front. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has held a competition among advanced, satellite-guided versions that plan their own routes and maneuver around roadblocks. The Army is testing driverless versions of its Stryker armored personnel carrier.
  • Robots that can enter a building, look for an enemy and send back a map of the interior are being tested for the Marine Corps.

Eventually, wars won’t be fought by humans anymore. Think about it… human soldiers are a major drag when it comes to fighting wars efficiently. Next to being error prone, they require:

  • Long and expensive training.
  • Food and drink supplies.
  • Lots of time to rest.
  • Lots of time and costly expenses to heal from injuries.

Whereas robots:

  • Can share software instantly, meaning that if one robot knows how to fight war, all the others know how to fight war. Making a thousand copies is no harder than making one copy.
  • Does not require food and drink supplies. By the time robots will be fighting our wars for us, they’ll probably be energy self sufficient using highly advanced solar panels.
  • Does not need rest.
  • Can be mass produced, easily repaired once damaged and easily replaced once destroyed.

War will basically turn into a game of chess, with humans as the players and robots as the pieces. Ofcourse, whoever has the best technology wins.

Emotion Recognizing Software

Face Reader Bridges Autism Gap.

You are a mind reader, whether you know it or not. You can tell just by looking at a human face whether the person is concentrating, confused, interested or in agreement with you.

But people afflicted by autism lack this ability to ascertain emotional status — it’s one of the signature characteristics of the disease. Help could be on the way for autistic individuals, though: A novel computer-vision system developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could do the mind reading for those who can’t.

The system’s software goes beyond tracking simple emotions like sadness and anger to estimate complex mental states like agreeing, disagreeing, thinking, confused, concentrating and interested. The goal is to put this mental state inference engine on a wearable platform and use it to augment or enhance social interactions, said Rana el Kaliouby, a postdoctoral researcher at the Media Lab.

“This is only possible now because of the progress made in affective computing, real-time machine perception and wearable technologies,” she said.

Looks like technology could help us out in our daily social interactions, reducing the amount of social mishaps as a result of miscommunication.

Also, wouldn’t it be wonderful if our computers could read our emotions in order to respond to our frustrations?

When Algorithms Take The Weel

When Algorithms Take The Weel.

Algorithmically controlled sensors, suspension adjustment and other electronic functions are not what you are supposed to notice when you drive Jaguar’s new XK convertible and coupe. The car’s highly automated driving control, Jaguar engineers say, is supposed to transparently keep you out of trouble — while you embark upon a high-powered sport car driving experience.

During an extreme test of the XK’s handling capabilities, the car only fishtailed back and forth once after I jerked the steering wheel on a wet road around a 90 degree turn while driving at about 60 mph. The car’s back wheels swung first left then right before the XK’s sensors registered a difference in torque between the rear tires and, transparent to me, righted the fishtailing effect by a combination of de-acceleration, tire rotation and vehicle weight distribution control. More often than not, the sensation of flatness, as if there were a vertical force pinning the car to the road, was also felt then and when taking less extreme curves at high speeds.

Nanocar Provided With Motor

Rice Scientists Attach Motor to Single-molecule Car.

In follow-on work to last year’s groundbreaking invention of the world’s first single-molecule car, chemists at Rice University have produced the first motorized version of their tiny nanocar.

The motorized model of the nanocar is powered by light. Its rotating motor, a molecular framework that was developed by Ben L. Feringa at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, was modified by Tour¹s group so that it would attach in-line with the nanocar¹s chassis. When light strikes the motor, it rotates in one direction, pushing the car along like a paddlewheel.

The nanocar consists of a rigid chassis and four alkyne axles that spin freely and swivel independently of one another. The four buckyball wheels that were used in the original version of the nanocar drained energy from the motor and were replaced with spherical molecules of carbon, hydrogen and boron called p-carborane.

The nanocars, which measure just 3-by-4 nanometers, are about the same width as a strand of DNA, but much shorter than DNA. About 20,000 of these nanocars could be parked, side-by-side, across the diameter of human hair.

They are the first nanoscale vehicles with an internal motor.

Very useful for transferring molecular payloads.

All in all, a great milestone towards full blown, advanced nanotechnology.

Lab-on-a-chip To Simplify Blood Tests

Lab-on-a-chip To Simplify Blood Tests.

A cell phone-sized blood-count machine requiring less blood than a mosquito bite will make blood tests easier for many patients, from neonatal units to astronauts in space.

“Analysis of blood composition is how doctors test for infections and deficiencies in the immune system, monitor health and make medical diagnoses,” said Dr. Yu-Chong Tai, investigator on NSBRI’s Technology Development Team. “Looking ahead to future missions to the moon and Mars, astronauts will need to perform simple blood tests to get up-to-the-minute information on their health.”

Presently, the slow process of assessing blood composition requires bulky counting machines, trained technicians and a large amount of blood (approximately two syringes or ten milliliters), so analysis cannot be done in space. To assess their physiology, astronauts draw blood samples in orbit for analysis after their return. “In addition to space medicine, the technology could be used in neonatal care since large blood draws are not possible with infants,” Tai added.

They call it lab-on-a-chip because the little device does a task that used to require a whole laboratory. Science is effectively compressing a whole lot of functionality in a very small volume.

This is only the start of personal health monitoring, something you’ll be hearing a lot of in the future. Other examples of personal health monitoring are smart toilets that analyze your droppings and nanotech t-shirts that monitor your heart rate and perhaps even analyze your sweat.

A decade from now, we’ll all look back to the the primitive times of the early 21st century, when we didn’t even know what was going on inside our own bodies.

How barbaric was that?

Printing Hearts And Arteries

Print Me A Heart And A Set Of Arteries.

Sitting in a culture dish, a layer of chicken heart cells beats in synchrony. But this muscle layer was not sliced from an intact heart, nor even grown laboriously in the lab. Instead, it was “printed”, using a technology that could be the future of tissue engineering.

Gabor Forgacs, a biophysicist at the University of Missouri in Columbia, described his “bioprinting” technique last week at the Experimental Biology 2006 meeting in San Francisco. It relies on droplets of “bioink”, clumps of cells a few hundred micrometres in diameter, which Forgacs has found behave just like a liquid.

This means that droplets placed next to one another will flow together and fuse, forming layers, rings or other shapes, depending on how they were deposited. To print 3D structures, Forgacs and his colleagues alternate layers of supporting gel, dubbed “biopaper”, with the bioink droplets. To build tubes that could serve as blood vessels, for instance, they lay down successive rings containing muscle and endothelial cells, which line our arteries and veins. “We can print any desired structure, in principle,” Forgacs told the meeting.

With advances like these and stem cell research, we can be sure to have plenty of spare organs in the future. I wonder which technique will end up being ‘the one’ that supplies us with our spare parts.

In the meantime, take care of your brain. It’s the only part of you that can’t be replaced.

Nanoscience Rising Up To Meet Energy Challenge

Nanoscience Rising Up To Meet Energy Challenge.

Tiny materials may bring about large-scale advances in a future hydrogen economy, Institute Professor Mildred S. Dresselhaus told audiences Wednesday, April 5, at MIT and at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology.

While hydrogen has advantages, it’s “not a fuel. You can’t mine it. We would have to make nine million tons a year, and eventually, 20 times more than that,” Dresselhaus said. Because hydrogen is currently produced from fossil fuels, scientists would have to find a way to produce it from sustainable sources such as rainfall and ocean water.

“We need to develop the technology to convert hydrogen and water to free hydrogen, but we don’t know how to do it cheaply and at a large scale,” she said.

To make hydrogen that works as well as gasoline as an automotive fuel or to power the fuel cells that may replace internal combustion engines, researchers are depending on nanotechnology.

“By using new advanced materials now becoming available through nanoscience, scientists can take advantage of quantum phenomena that occur at this scale,” she said.

Nanotechnology can help develop efficient, inexpensive catalysts for hydrogen production and storage. Several chemical species contain hydrogen in high concentrations, but the trick is to release hydrogen from its strong chemical bonds to make it usable in a system like a car that needs a steady flow of fuel.

Also see New Advances Made in Hydrogen Fuel Cells.

The best hope for bringing the hydrogen-fueled automobile to the American roadway may be a technology that is invisible to the naked eye.

The technology is in the form of tiny graphite structures that together act as a sponge to absorb and store hydrogen in the fuel system of the automobile. Onboard storage of hydrogen gas is the major obstacle impeding the progress and wide-scale commercial production of the hydrogen-powered vehicle, which many view as the next generation in energy-efficient and environmentally friendly road transportation.

The graphite structures are a product of the burgeoning field of nanotechnology. Engineers design the structures at the molecular level, working in scales as small as millimeters and nanometers. The engineers stack the fibrous platelets one atop the other, leaving the optimum gap between the wafers; then they arrange the chemistry so that hydrogen molecules are absorbed in the graphite.

The nanostructures are extremely porous, like a sponge, allowing them to absorb large capacities of hydrogen until fully saturated. Experiments demonstrate that the hydrogen storage in graphite nanofibers is safe.

Another method of hydrogen storage derived from nanotechnology involves carbon nano-tubes. With carbon nanotubes, engineers arrange carbon platelets in different configurations. Research has shown the carbon nanotubes to display strong hydrogen storage capabilities.

Nanopore Method Could Revolutionize DNA Sequencing

Nanopore Method Could Revolutionize Genome Sequencing.

A team led by physicists at the University of California, San Diego has shown the feasibility of a fast, inexpensive technique to sequence DNA as it passes through tiny pores. The advance brings personalized, genome-based medicine closer to reality.

The paper, published in the April issue of the journal Nano Letters , describes a method to sequence a human genome in a matter of hours at a potentially low cost, by measuring the electrical perturbations generated by a single strand of DNA as it passes through a pore more than a thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Because sequencing a person’s genome would take several months and millions of dollars with current DNA sequencing technology, the researchers say that the new method has the potential to usher in a revolution in medicine.

The researchers caution that there are still hurdles to overcome because no one has yet made a nanopore with the required configuration of electrodes, but they think it is only a matter of time before someone successfully assembles the device. The nanopore and the electrodes have been made separately, and although it is technically challenging to bring them together, the field is advancing so rapidly that they think it should be possible in the near future.

In addition to the speed and low cost of the nanopore method, the researchers calculate that it will ultimately be significantly less error-prone than current methods.

DNA moving through a nanopore (click to enlarge)

Personalized medication will be far more effective than our current ‘one-size-fits-all’ type of drugs. In reality, one size doesn’t fit all.

Brain Computer Interface Commercially Viable

Brain Computer Interface Commercially Viable.

A non-invasive device that allows severely paralysed people to interact with a computer via their brain signals has been improved to make it a viable commercial product by Cambridge Consultants (CCL).

Known as a brain-computer interface (BCI), the device uses electroencephalography (EEG) to detect microvolt brain signals, then applies an adaptive algorithm that focuses on the EEG features the person is best able to control.

Those signals can be mapped onto functions for tasks such as manoeuvring a cursor around a PC screen, or for spelling out words for a speech synthesiser.

The system, developed by researchers at the Wadsworth Center, a New York State health unit, originally used a large, $13,000 64-channel amp and the user had to wear a bulky cap to apply 64 electrodes to the skull.

CCL’s input involved reducing the size, complexity and cost to make it more suitable for home or hospital use.

The cost of the enhanced system has been reduced to $5,000, the amount users can claim from Medicare for a speech-assist device.

Right now, usage of these types of systems is limited to paralysed people. But inventions that were originally made for the ill, have a tendency of ending up being used by other people as well (example: bubblebaths; originally invented for people with backaches).

In the future, our computers will be able to read our minds. We’ll be giving it commands by thinking about them.

That should make for an interesting videogame experience. 😉

Robot Uses Solar Power For 500km Trek

Robot Uses Solar Power For 500km Trek.

The Cool Robot is a solar-powered four-wheel-drive autonomous science vehicle designed for summer use in the Antarctica and Greenland.

Developed in New Hampshire by the US Army’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, together with the state’s Dartmouth College, it weighs 61kg and measures 1.2×1.2×1.0m.

Providing the summer sun is above 16°C, Cool Robot can drive on soft snow entirely powered by its solar cells at a speed of 0.78m/s where consumption averages to 160W.

Estimates based on these figures, obtained from testing in Greenland last year, suggest that over two weeks it will be able to carry a 15kg payload 500km across the Arctic plateau.